Like Scott, when I first saw/heard the premise for this episode, I thought it might devolve into gelatinous cheesiness.
But given the prior evidence, I should have had more faith in Scott and Emery. This discussion was really excellent!
2 cents worth, which I hope will be brief:
As someone raised as an evangelical, I completely understand how Scott would imagine loss of his "sense of duty" toward distant human beings and other creatures without his belief that a deity keeps track of his thoughts and actions. However, in short, that feeling is not inevitable or necessary for any former believer or never-did-believer. In fact, very often exactly the reverse is true.
And on a societal basis (versus a personal one), I think the evidence of history shows that religions tend to create more division, acrimony, and violence for people who are different and/or far away than they do caring and love. And that "duty" in religious - and yes, Christian - terms has as often run toward the side of horror as it has the side of benevolence.
That's a big subject. But for one tiny but pertinent recent example, simply consider the Bible verses printed on rifle barrels manufactured for use by the U.S. military. Onward Christian Soldiers, indeed.
Also and similarly, atheists need not miss the feeling of "being part of something larger than oneself." Being unlimited by any religious identification, we recognize fully
that we're part of all
humanity, indeed part of the entire cosmos!
This frees us to take part in any sort of civic or humanitarian activity, and when confronted with real human need, I seriously doubt most deity disbelievers feel any less a sense of duty (which is arguably another way of describing feelings of compassion) to act, nor any less a sense of guilt when we fail to act.
Contrary to the average Christian, however, we must place the responsibility of action or inaction solely on ourselves, rather than adding the additional layer of anxiety and fear created by the prospect that a deity might throw us into an eternal "lake of fire" versus granting an eternal "heaven."
Is that notion what Christians really have to have to spur them into caring for others beyond their immediate surroundings? Really?
If so, well, I guess I'll withhold comment.
That brings me to Emery's incisive points about HELLLLLLLLLLL!
I remember first having thoughts along the lines of Emery's a few years back while listening to a recording of an Alan Watts lecture. I've forgotten the exact context, but Mr. Watts allowed that if Christians really
believed the business about hell, they would, each and every one, be up on the rooftops every day shouting about it at the top of their lungs.
Both Emery and Watts are/were correct.
So what's the deal? I suggest that Christians take the Bible at face value as a default when it's convenient and useful to them.
But when the words in the text - whether convoluted translation or original Greek - are troubling or inconvenient or contradictory or just flat absurd, the second option is for theologians to step in and pronounce that the words really mean something quite different than a plain reading would suggest. Whew! What a relief that must be!
Then if the theologians can't quite make things ship-shape and comforting again, the third option is to simply ignore the offending passage(s).
I'd say that third option is very consistently applied when it comes to the concept of hell. Otherwise, life for Christians would become very
Last, I'd say the reason the people in the "early church" didn't spend so much time worrying about hell was that they appeared to think the "Kingdom of God" was imminent, did they not? And being part of "the church," they expected to be part of that happy scenario, did they not?
Also, the Bible itself, and its brimstony passages, was not common in the "early church," or even yet compiled in anything like its current form, depending on how early we're talking.
Those who know the most of nature believe the least about theology. - Robert Ingersoll